Category Archives: Quantum Physics

George and the Unbreakable Code

This is the fourth instalment of the George children’s book series written by the Hawking father and daughter team. I don’t know about you, but occasionally I find that by the time you make it to book four of a series, the magic has dwindled, the characters have become boring and you can’t wait for someone to get to the point.

That didn’t happen here. In case you’re wondering, I managed to read this in an afternoon. Or rather, had to read it in one afternoon because I had a serious case of can’t-put-it-down.George and the Unbreakable Code - Book Cover

George and Annie are on half term break, and like we can all remember from when we were at school, it could get a bit dull. Until suddenly many things start to happen in quick succession. Money being shot out of cash machines, free airplane flights, no electricity and a whole lot more, all of which seems to be based on a worldwide computer system failure. Whilst Eric has been summoned to Downing Street to help find out what on earth is going, George and Annie must work on Annie’s half term project about the chemistry of life itself, with Cosmic (the super super-computer) to help them. But Cosmic seems to be acting up and causing trouble. Very quickly, they realise that figuring out what’s going on is down to them, and only them.

Just as thrilling a book as all the ones before it, ‘George and the Unbreakable Code’ also delves deeper and covers topics and ideas that the intended readers might not normally think about. Lucy and Stephen Hawking have introduced the idea of learning disabilities, destabilisation of social order and looting. But they also brought up the concepts of strong friendships, self-sustainability and trust. Bringing all of these together has added an extra layer to the book, hopefully passing on some wisdom to the reader without them noticing.

And as with the other books, the entire adventure is inundated with fact pages about everything from Enceladus to Carbon, from wartime computing to Boltzmann Brains (not to be confused with one of the characters, Boltzmann Brian who is absolutely wonderful!). There are also the usual mini-essays written by leading scientists and pages of pictures relevant to the story. There’s even a section on keeping safe on the internet, which is always good to drum home, even when you’re old and (meant to be) wise!

Overall, a brilliant book as always brought from the fabulous Hawking duo. May they keep educating us with these intelligently written characters.


Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed

Quantum - A Guide for the Perplexed

The first thing about this book is that you need to be careful, because the cover could cause you to go cross-eyed. But apart from that, the book is a fantastic read both for those who know a little about the topic and those who have no idea and are scared by the word “quantum” (which, to be honest, they should be).

Jim Al-Khalili takes your hand and guides you through the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics, and does so with a similar approach to that which an undergraduate might meet when they first start.

He does everything simply, clearly and with added humour; carefully introducing more and more concepts that underpin the entire field.

Later, when the reader has gained more confidence, the book moves into much more complex regions of quantum physics, including things which physics students might not have covered in much detail, yet the author still does it in a very easy to follow manner.

The entire book also has little nuggets of fact-file style pages, some written by Al-Khalili, but many written by colleagues from different universities, expanding on what has been mentioned in the main text of the book. Additionally there are amusing analogies such as the quantum diamond thief, and entertaining notes explaining to American readers that Leeds United are the best football team in the UK; all these merely add icing on top of a wonderfully yummy cake.

If you want to have a better understanding of quantum physics, or you’re a student who needs a quick explanation of the Zeeman effect because your lecturer makes no sense, then Jim Al-Khalili’s book “Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed” is perfect. Just don’t confuse it with a zebra.

“It Is Just BEAUTIFUL Physics”

The last time I laughed that hard, I was watching a Marx Brothers movie.

“A Night With The Stars” (BBC 2) truly meant a night with the stars. But the celebrity kind, rather than the celestial. Professor Brian Cox invited members of the celebrity world to watch, and even participate in, a lecture at The Royal Institute, London. Oh, and it was going to be about Quantum Physics. The deeper meaning of Quantum Physics.

With volunteers like Sarah Millican, James May, Jim Al Khalili, Simon Pegg and others, you could already tell that this was going to be a night of pure entertainment, with a hint of scientific knowledge. From the Double Slit Experiment to the Pauli Exclusion. Task ranging from sand pouring to some, less than complex mathematics. Poor Jonathan Ross… trying to divide numbers with powers of 10. Luckily Jim Al Khalili was on hand to give him some helpful advice, seeing as Brian thought it would be funny to abandon the poor man!

But the most definitive achievement of the night, was the waving up and down of a very long spring by Simon Pegg and Jim Al Khalili. They got as far as 6 nodes on a standing wave, and that’s tough.
Then again, James May having all his hair blown back and with a sooty face may have been an exciting result of his experiment. Sadly, Mr May did not turn into a mad scientist.

Being a Physicist myself (though technically, me being an Astrophysicist is even better) made this all the more entertaining. Not because I enjoyed watching someone squirm with maths I did in my head in seconds, but because the victims, no sorry…. volunteers know how to
be funny. Their way of turning their utter confusion into comedy made it entertaining not only for me, but for the live audience and the audience sitting at home. And I bet that it made the physics behind it be absorbed into the minds of the viewers. Who knows, someday Sarah Millican might achieve a PhD in Quantum Physics.

And I don’t think I have ever heard it said better than Professor Brian Cox’s last line, “It is just beautiful Physics”.

[All Photos Copyright of the BBC]